Monday, January 15, 2007

What the Tri-Cities Y Should Try, and Why

Local newspaper reports and subsequent evidence show that the new Tri-Cities YMCA director is working on a membership drive. Their message is centered around the fact that people should join to fulfill New Year's Resolutions to get healthy. The incentive is a waiver of initiation fees.

Not so sophisticated an approach in my opinion. For one, the same strategy has been tried by every health club on the planet. This does nothing to distinguish the Y from Norton Pines and other local options for exercising.

More importatly, the Y needs to ask its current members about their satisfaction level. People talk more than ads do. There are some issues with parking, hours, the state of the facilities--particularly the hot tub and sauna, as well as some exercie equipment--and maybe other factors as well. Beyond that, the Y should look at membership trends and see if there is any pattern that should be addressed. Related to that, exit interviews with people who did not renew or went elsewhere should be seriously considered before trying to lure in new members.

Messages as they are seem to assume that everyone wants to join the Y, they just need to know about it. That's naive. A little advertising exercise is needed before the new Y director is in shape for the promotion game.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

I Blog, Therefore I Am

By now, many of you have heard of this phenomenon called “blogs.” It’s one of those modern terms that combines two words, Web log, into one: blog. As the name implies, a blog is essentially a log or diary kept by an individual online.

There are many types of blogs. Some company presidents keep blogs. Politicians are writing blogs. But the overwhelming majority of blogs are by everyday, average people. They write about everything from the inane to the insightful. There are a lot of kids blogging about what they did that day, who they like at school and so forth. Others are taking on major social issues and bringing forth viewpoints not found in the mainstream media. Bloggers have been credited with breaking major news stories, creating buzz about a product, and affecting public opinion.

Communication professors like myself get all excited about this sort of thing. It’s something new to study and talk about. This blog trend is radically changing the media landscape by putting the tools of communicating to large audiences into the hands of the citizens. Concepts like “media democracy,” “social media” and “consumer sovereignty” keep cropping up.

I won’t get into a full discussion of the pros and cons of all of that in this column, though. On a more basic level, the blog phenomenon—also called the “blogosphere”—is interesting to contemplate. According to Blog Pulse there are 40 million blogs, with another 40 thousand new blogs added each day! Others estimate even more blogs are out there. So now technology has devised ways to search blogs for topics relevant to specific interest categories. As one reader noted on a site called technorati that helps “tag” blogs with key words that identify their content, “With 55 million blogs, at least some of them have to be good.”

I have also read surveys in which very few people indicate they have ever read a blog. It seems that only a few blogs are read with any regularity. The remaining millions are just voices in the blogosphere wilderness. This raises the question: why blog?

In the 17th century the French philospher Rene Descartes said “I think, therefore I am.” It’s a simple statement but with deeply profound philosophical implications. While the exact meaning of the quote is debated, some have maintained that it means people are certain of their existence, or significance, because of their ability to think. It may be a loose connection, but today I think many people are blogging not because they have anything important to say, but because they feel with so many other bloggers out there they must join in to lend proof of or significance to their existence. On the other hand, maybe they just think it’s fun to blog.

I have decided to blog for several reasons. I started a local professional blog last year because I thought it was a way for me to offer commentary on my profession—public relations and advertising. It’s a local blog because I only discuss matters related to advertising and public relations here in West Michigan. There are many blogs just about public relations, and I thought I couldn’t really add a lot to that conversation. But by focusing locally, I can perhaps do something meaningful. I am asked often for my opinion on subjects like this, so I decided to get proactive. So, it is a way to facilitate discussion about my profession. If you want to read this blog, “GRPR”, it can be found at

Now, I have decided to start a second blog focused on the Tri-Cities. This also will be a way to facilitate discussion, and to have fun. Many of you have asked me if my columns are online. Some are, at the Grand Haven Tribune Web site. But I thought that, beginning this month, I will start posting them to a new blog, called “Pier Points.” As I have time, I will add previous columns for the full archive to be there. I only write a column once a month, but I often have more than one thought a month! So I may use this new blog to post comments on Tri-Cities or other issues periodically between columns as well. The best part about the blog is that you can post comments to a specific item right in the blog. You can also continue to use the “Letters to the Editor” section of the Tribune.

If you are interested in reading the blog, you can find it at

See you in the blogosphere.